Arrested in a crackdown on women’s rights activists, Eman al Nafjan is well known for writing about Saudi politics and human rights defenders, and for criticizing the guardian system for women and the ban on women driving. The Saudi daily Okaz regards her as a “traitor.”
According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, she was arrested on 17 May although the authorities waited several days before leaking any information about the latest wave of arrests. The security services finally issued a statement reporting that several persons had been arrested and were being interrogated on suspicion of having “suspicious contact with foreign parties” and endangering “security and stability.”
According to the Associated Press, Nafjan and at least six other women and three men are currently being held incommunicado and have been denied access to lawyers.
“We condemn the hypocrisy and double talk of the Saudi authorities, who claim to be opening up the country while in fact gagging critics by jailing them or forcing them to flee abroad,” RSF said. “Eman al Nafjan and the other women’s rights defenders have no place in detention and should be freed without delay.”
The right of women to drive, which is finally due to take effect on 24 June, was one of the demands of the detained activists. When the authorities announced that they were going to grant this right, journalists discovered that Saudi campaigners for this right had been ordered to say nothing about the announcement. The guardian system continues to be in effect.
As RSF pointed out in a recent report entitled “Women’s rights: forbidden subject,” it is often dangerous for journalists to investigate and report on issues linked to women’s rights. RSF found that, for covering these issues, the rights of at least 90 journalists were seriously violated in some 20 countries from 2012 to 2017.
At least 11 journalists and citizen-journalists are officially imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, while around 15 other professional and non-professional journalists are being held without any official confirmation. Saudi Arabia is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.